Salary Distribution Curve for the Class of 2009 Shows Relatively Few Salaries Were Close to the Mean

July 2010

The prevalence of high salaries in large law firms, in concert with the relatively stable salaries among other employers, continues to result in a salary distribution with two distinct peaks, as shown in the graph below: one at the $160,000 level and one in the $40,000-$65,000 range. Relatively few salaries are near either the median or the mean. This distribution would maintain its two-peak nature, although with a less extreme peak on the right and a bulkier peak on the left, even with all full-time salaries reported. It would also remain the case that relatively few salaries are at or near the median or average. The dotted line represents an adjusted mean based on estimates accounting for the unreported salaries. It is important to note that salary figures reported do not include compensation beyond salary such as a signing bonus, bar stipend, or reimbursement of bar review expenses. 

Distribution of Reported Full-Time Salaries — Class of 2009

Note: The graph is based on 19,513 salaries. A few salaries above $200,000 are excluded for clarity. The left-hand peaks of the graph reflect salaries of $40,000 to $65,000, which collectively accounted for 42% of reported salaries.The right-hand peak shows that salaries of $160,000 accounted for 25% of reported salaries. However, more complete salary coverage for jobs at large law firms heightens this peak and diminishes the left-hand peaks — and shows that the unadjusted mean overstates the average starting salary by about 10%. Nonetheless, as both the arithmetic mean and the adjusted mean show, relatively few salaries are close to either mean figure. For purposes of this graph, all reported salaries were rounded to the nearest $5,000.

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